Thursday, October 29, 2009


Where I grew up, in the Midwest, slugs were a garden problem. They'd hole your tomatoes, and eat the leaves of about everything else. These little black shell-less terrors got perhaps an inch long and were less than 1/4" across.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, they grow the slugs bigger. Seriously people, you have NO IDEA. Here, a slug 6-8" long is the norm, and these guys (and gals? how do you tell?) are 3/4" across. And, no they are not black. Most are green with random dark spots, and there is a second kind that is brown. Stepping on one is seriously dangerous - as dangerous as stepping on a banana peel... but way more disgusting.

And they can swallow your tomatoes whole.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Dance

As a boat, Eolian is commodious. Yet by the housing standards most people are familiar with, she is cramped.

For better visualization, compare Eolian to a 14x45 mobile home. But wait... not that large, since her ends are pointy. Our doorways are all 20" wide - the width of a narrow linen closet door.

Space is, and always has been at a premium on boats. And there is a long history here - Columbus' private cabin on the Niña was only slightly larger than a phone booth (and similarly shaped)... his sailors lived on deck in the open or below it with the animals. The Niña was larger than Eolian, but surprisingly, not by very much:
Sail Area11001919

For the two of us, moving about on the boat is an unconscious dance born of long habit. We don't think about it (and maybe this is the best kind of dance). An example: For me to go into the aft cabin when Jane is working in the galley, she steps closer to the corner between the sink and the stove, I turn sideways as I take the step that moves me past her, and then step down 8" into the aft cabin, still slightly cocked sideways to be sure to clear both sides of the doorway. There are no coordinating messages passed, and the dance is so well practiced that it is executed flawlessly even in pitch darkness.

We are a well-coordinated team.

We have to be.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chili Feed Onboard

It had been a lonngg while since we had everybody onboard for any event, so Jane decided that tonite was to be a family chili feed. She started making the food yesterday, and had us set up with Halloween accessories, hors d'orves and a great selection of beers and wine, in addition to a superb chili (7 tbs of chili powder...).

For the first time in a long time, Eolian was rocked from stem to stern with laughter from the whole family, and even at one point, singing (singing?).

Also, apparently Adam and I did a comparison of iPhone apps.

My selection was clearly superior.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fresh Water Onboard

Tonight, Eolian has a pronounced heel to starboard. Not that she is ever level and completely stationary, but it is enough where we are noticing it. I just came in from outside, having put the dock water hose into her port water tank. That heel is an indication that we are about to run out of water, and as everyone knows, that never happens at an opportune moment. People who live in houses don't get to use the tilt of the floor as an indication that their water is about to be cut off. Or to use water to trim their house until the floors are level.

Eolian has two water tanks - 160 gallons on the port side, and another 160 gallons on the starboard side. She also has two equivalent diesel tanks, one on each side. At the moment, the port diesel tank is empty and the starboard one is a little more than half full. Thus we are keeping the starboard water tank empty and filling the port one. This keeps things more or less level.

This task is one that is enjoyable in the summer, often an opportunity to socialize or to just enjoy the scenery out here at the end of the dock. But tonight, in the dark with rain spitting, it is not so much fun. So I am back inside and while I am typing, I am listening to the liquid sound of water running into the tank.

Some boats on the dock choose to bypass the hassle of this ritual, and hook up a dock hose direct to their onboard water system. Having seen two boats nearly destroyed by this practice, it is one we do not follow. In both cases, some portion of the onboard water system failed. Fresh water then pours in as fast as the city of Seattle can deliver it (and they have lots... more than enough to sink a boat).

In one of the incidents, the broken water fitting was directly above the shore power inlet, thus delivering a torrent of water over the 110v wiring. That boat had a functioning bilge pump and the break was small enough that it could keep up. But the water pouring over the shore power could have easily started a fire.

In the other incident, a hose came off a fitting. In this case, the bilge pump malfunctioned, and the boat partially sank before the water was shut off, resulting in a large insurance claim, and months of disrupted living while the repairs were made.

Without a direct hookup, if we experience a water system failure, all that will happen is that the water we already have onboard will relocate a little lower in the hull.

Nevertheless, there are good reasons to have a direct hookup - for example if you have a washer and dryer onboard, or have a large family. In these cases, they just have to live with the risk, and remember to turn off the city water before leaving the boat to go to work.

OK, the sound of water trickling has stopped, and the bilge pump just ran for a couple seconds - that means that the tank is full and is overflowing into the bilge. Time to go out and put away the hose.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Destination: Sucia Island, San Juan Islands

If you arrived here by searching for a chart, please see this page.

The second Northernmost (after Patos Island) of the San Juan Islands is Sucia Island. The word "sucia" is a Spanish word - it means "dirty", or in the marine sense, "foul". It doesn't seem a particularly tricky anchorage to us, but then we are not managing a large engine-less 18th century ship, and we have charts.

There are a lot of Spanish names attached to marine features in the Pacific Northwest, because the Spanish got here first, and therefore got to name things first. Later the British arrived in the person of George Vancouver in 1792 with his sloop-of-war Discovery. Vancouver, in the way of all explorers, went ahead and applied his own names to things, renaming many which already had earlier Spanish names. Not all of the names overlapped, and not all of them "took". Thus the area is a melange of English and Spanish. Of those features with Spanish names, some have retained their original Spanish pronunciation (Sucia, pronounced "soo-see-ah"), some have been horribly Anglicized (Texada Island, currently pronounced "teks-ay-dah", but which would be said "tay-hah-dah" in Spanish), and some which appear to be indeterminate (Matia Island, pronounced both as "mah-tee-ah" - correct Spanish, or "may-shah", an Anglicization). But I digress.

In what must have been a huge campaign at the time, Sucia was purchased by a large consortium of yacht clubs in 1960, and then donated to the State of Washington to be a Marine Park. It is in many ways the crown jewel of Washington's Marine Park system.

This Marine Park covers the entire island - it is laced with trails, some thru deep quiet forest and tall trees, some near the shore with water views. Hiking the length of the Island is excellent exercise for legs which have been confined aboard for too long. Sucia is the prototypical San Juan Island - hard rock (as opposed to the caliche of which the more southern islands in Puget Sound are comprised), covered with pines, firs, cedars and madrona. It is essentially located in the open waters of the Strait of Georgia, so the voyage there can be exciting, whether you are approaching from East or from West of Orcas Island. Or it can be surprisingly dead calm (as this picture from our 2007 visit shows, looking right into Echo Bay from the Southeast).

There are three major anchorages in the Sucia archipelago. The largest, and the one we use with Eolian, is Echo Bay. Like Reid Harbor on Stuart Island, it is long and can accommodate a large number of boats. There are plenty of State Park buoys, but their usage is dwarfed by the usual count of boats at anchor. However it is our understanding that the anchorage has been recently constrained by the demarcation of an eel grass conservation area since last we visited. Echo Bay faces Southeast, which would make it not a good choice in a Southerly blow.

Next to the West is Fossil Bay - a much smaller harbor. There is a dock at the head of Fossil Bay, which means that the smaller boats congregate here and compete for space at the dock. It has a much more protected feel because of the close quarters, but I suspect it would not be much of an improvement over Echo Bay in a Southerly. The low sandspit at the head end of the harbor barely divides it from Fox Cove, and is a unique and popular camping spot.

Shallow Bay on the West shore is aptly named. We have anchored there with smaller boats, but have not yet chanced it with Eolian. The deeper water is on the Northern side of the harbor; the entrance is narrow, but clearly marked. This would be a great gunkhole to sit out that Southerly we have been talking about, if there were not a negative tide in the offing. The "dinosaur rock" in Shallow Bay has been the delight of children for years (centuries?), including ours.

The much smaller harbors of Fox Cove and Ewing Cove will hold a couple of boats each. The last time we were anchored in Echo Bay, we were out in the dinghy and watched a sailboat negotiating the entrance to Ewing cove... Then we actually heard him hit a rock. This is a very sobering sound.

Wherever you are in the San Juans, Mount Baker dominates the Eastern skyline. But in Echo Bay, at sunset, it is absolutely spectacular. It is hard to imagine a better way to end the day than to savor this panorama with a glass of red wine.

Friday, October 16, 2009


This week we put out our second set of fenders because NOAA was forecasting continuous winds out of the East at 20-30 kt here in Puget Sound.

As it turned out, we didn't see anything over a fairly mild 20 kt, so it was not strictly necessary. But the storms of winter are coming, so even if the forecast was incorrect, it was a harbinger of things to come.

(I took this picture in a winter storm in 2006, when the wind was blowing 40+ kt.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mark Twain

"Mark twain" means literally "Mark number two". It was a Mississippi River term: the second mark on the line that measured depth signified two fathoms, or twelve feet—safe depth for a riverboat.

"Mark Twain" was also the pseudonym chosen by American humorist Samuel L. Clemens. Supposedly, he chose the name because of its suggestive meaning, since it was a riverman's term for water that was just barely safe for navigation. One implication of this "barely safe water" meaning was, as his character Huck Finn would later remark, "Mr. Mark Twain - he told the truth, mostly." Another implication was that "barely safe water" usually made people nervous, or at least uncomfortable. (Quoted from

In the days before electronic depth sounders, the established means of knowing the depth of water under a boat was a lead line: a lead weight tied on the end of a piece of (often) knotted or otherwise marked rope. This primitive but foolproof device was used from the misty depths of time until this century when sonar was invented and used for locating the bottom.

Also, comes here the origin of the measurement term "fathom." Stretch out your arms to the sides, and most folks will find that the span is about 6 feet: a fathom. So, if you were taking depths with an unmarked lead line, you could still get a pretty accurate measurement using fathoms, measuring the line as you hauled it back in. (But in order to avoid repeatedly hauling in and measuring the wet line by stretching it out with one's arms, it was traditional to tie marks at intervals along the line. These marks were made of leather, calico and other materials, so shaped and attached that it was possible to "read" them on sight by day or at night by the feel of each one.) Nautical charts today still mark depths in fathoms.

When anchoring, it is important to know the depth of the water. Today the electronic depth sounder makes that part easy. But it is equally as important to know how much anchor rode you have put out - it does no good to anchor in an accurately measured depth of 25 feet with 24 feet of rode...

Not surprisingly, similar problems engender similar solutions. We have seen many anchor rode marking solutions: pieces of small line tied into the links of the anchor chain, colored nylon wire ties, and others. But by far the most common means we see on G-dock at Shilshole is carefully applied colored paint.

The usual paint is spray paint, but unlike lead line markings of yore, the length indicating color schemes appear to have no standard - they are unique to each boat.

It is not uncommon to find someone with their bow pulled right up to the dock, and all their anchor chain neatly flaked onto the dock in (presumably) measured lengths.

No matter what scheme is used to mark the rode, it is worn off by going over the anchor windlass wildcat, so it needs to be re-done every few years.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Not a Boating Weekend: Geezer Hike 2009

This weekend we did a late-season backpacking trip up into the Cascades, to Goat Lake. This would not be a particularly strenuous trip for you younger folks (5.2 miles, 1300 vertical), but for us, without any warm-up, it was just right. That is, we probably couldn't have made it if it was much more.

The hike is pretty gentle for the first 5 miles, rising from about 1900 feet to about 2600 feet along an old, abandoned road. This road was built in the 1890s to serve a small mining town. The mining must have been pretty good, to drive the creation of this road - a big Cat bulldozer would have had a rough time of it - I'm not sure how this would have been done before they were invented.

Yet in the 100 years since its creation, many parts of the road are now unusable. There are washouts, landslides, and trees across it.

There were trees... oh, my gosh, there were trees... big ones! Some must have been growing when Columbus was heading west... At least one needed to be straightened up a little. We all try to do our part.

Lunch was served al fresco, at a restaurant that has the best ambiance of any I have ever seen.

It is the last 0.5 mile or so of the trail that is the hardest - in this short stretch, it rises 600 feet, to the lake. That is 60 stories in half a mile.

No trace of the old town remains, and in fact our campsite was at the old site of a hotel/headquarters building. Now the site holds nothing but towering hemlocks (and our tent, briefly).

And then the lake. Ah, the lake. Our campsite looked right at it. It is surrounded by mountains with glaciers and the first of this year's snow.

The water maples and the vine maples were at the peak of their colors (pure luck on our part) - they were spectacular! In a place like this, you come face-to-face with the reality that the works of man are nothing compared to those of God.

Jane says that everyone should see a mountain lake at least once a year. I would add that unless you earn it, the experience is devalued.

It is well worth the stiff calves we are both suffering from this evening...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pterodactyls - With Attitude

Remember that last scene in Jurassic Park, when everyone is escaping the island in an airplane? They are all looking out the window at a flock of birds (pelicans, I think) as the modern-day direct descendants of dinosaurs. If you ever had any doubt about that heritage, you clearly have not had a close encounter with a Great Blue Heron. These were exotic creatures where I grew up (the midwest), but here at the Shilshole Bay Marina, it is not at all unusual to find one standing on the dock.

They are imposing creatures, standing more than waist high - these are not small birds. They have a regal bearing. As you approach, they watch you, turning slowly to follow your movement. If you slow down, you can get within perhaps 10 feet or a little less. But eventually, the heron will decide you have invaded the royal personal space. Reluctantly, it will slowly stalk away. And by slowly, I mean: One. Step. Every. Five. Seconds. All grace, and the very picture of offended royalty.

If you move too quickly, or if there is no place to retreat to with dignity intact, the heron will squat down with those backward bending knees, and leap into the air while unfurling its huge wings (6-7 foot wingspan, and more than a foot of chord). There will be perhaps one flap, and the bird will glide to the next dock fully in ground effect, wingtips brushing the surface of the water. And it will display its displeasure with a loud "Graakkk!" (Really - that's the only way I can describe it - it is a really prehistoric sound - not something you'd associate with a song bird - or any bird for that matter. It sounds like... umm... a dinosaur.)

This fellow was looking for dinner in the water off our dock. I don't think he noticed us inside the boat (or maybe he was just pretending to not notice). Now, the dock surface is about 2 feet off the water, so he had a long reach. He would squat down, and stretcchh out his long neck, sticking his butt in the air. The obvious outcome was predictable: he fell in, headfirst. There was a great thrashing, and the big wings lifted him out of the water with a single pump. Then he was standing on the dock again, saying, "What? Did something happen here? Huh? Me? No. You are mistaken."

But he did quit fishing here.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Non-boating Weekend: Ode to a Heater

Adam started it - it's his fault. He put in a gas heater in his garage last winter. I visited him on a cold day, and he fired it up, and I immediately developed a serious case of furnace envy.

So I then ordered a gas heater. But, I couldn't just hook it up and run it (although I did have a temporary setup while I was working on the bowsprit last winter). My shop is open to the roof, so, although the heater could heat it, the heat went up to the roof, and then out the vents. That takes a lot of propane to keep it warm...

So. A ceiling had to be installed. And since, once the ceiling was installed, wiring would be a lot harder, I rewired the whole shop ceiling, as well as stringing a new circuit for the heater. There was gas plumbing too. And the addition of a pull-down ladder.

Next, since this is the only time to easily do this, I put up insulation. It was a pain, because the 24" wide stuff won't stay in place by itself - it is too heavy. So getting it up is tricky. I sprung for a tyvek suit, which kept me from itching all over from the job. I recommend this to anyone who has to handle fiberglass insulation... it really works (I also recommend you don't allow anyone to take pictures of you wearing the suit).

Then, since I already have more experience hanging sheetrock than I want, I hired a crew to sheetrock the ceiling. The pros got it up in less than 4 hours, for about $200 more than my cost for buying the materials from Home Depot. Way, way worth it.

Finally, finally, install the heater. I got it all hooked up and running this last weekend. It was wonderful to go out there and turn up the thermostat, and in just a few minutes time, it was warm! WARM!

How to start the week. Not.

Monday morning, at 05:15. It is dark.

I am up, but barely conscious.

I need to make lattes. (I have an alarm. Jane has an espresso machine, and me.)

Darn - the sugar container is nearly empty. Open the pantry cabinet, and take all the stuff off of the large sugar container, including a bag of rice. Pull out the container...

Splat! There was another bag of rice in there, and it was open.

Aside: I love the use of the zip-locks on food packaging - it's a great addition. But for some products, it is hard to get the zip-lock to, well, lock. A single grain of rice in the zipper is the same as having a tooth missing from a regular zipper - the whole thing comes undone starting right there.

So, now there is rice everywhere. Everywhere! So on Monday morning, Jane gets up to the sound of the vacuum cleaner. And for the rest of the day, I seem to be missing those 15 minutes I spent chasing rice grains. I am late for everything, running 15 minutes behind. I would have had this posted yesterday, if I wasn't behind...

Monday mornings are not my favorite.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

28 Knots, Safe and Warm

This evening, we sat in the cockpit, safe and warm, and watched (over the breakwater - it was high tide) a boat trying to take down his sails in 28 knots of wind. We know what he was going thru.

We last experienced it in the Strait of Georgia, on our way to Desolation Sound. We were sailing downwind under the mainsail, with a building wind. When it became apparent that we had too much sail up because Eolian wanted to broach after crossing each wave crest, we were faced with a dilemma: how do you take down the sail? It is full of wind and pulling the boat at more than 7 knots. There is no way to pull it down in those conditions. And working on the deck is dangerous because of the motion of the boat in those seas. We had jacklines strung bow to stern, but no one wants to have to depend on them - that would be a disaster layered on a problem. We had to turn the boat around so that the sail would empty. So, I started the engine in order to make the turn as fast as possible, and tried to time things to minimize the roll as we spun around in the trough between two waves. There was a cacophony of crashing sounds from down below, but Jane, on the cabin top was getting the sail down, finally.

After rigging more appropriate sail (the staysail), we surveyed the damage below. Lots of stuff was on the cabin sole - all the bookshelves had unloaded, despite their searails. The garbage can had tipped over. Cushions were everywhere. Dishes had escaped the cupboards. Nothing serious, but the boat was a mess.

We learned our lesson: never carry the main downwind beyond the point where turning upwind is easy.

And that boat out beyond the breakwater? I'm sure that he is still picking things up and straightening his cabin.

And we opened another beer and saluted him.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fall Morning at Anchor

This last weekend we made a quick jaunt over to Port Madison. We drove over using the engine, rather than sailing, since there was no wind. We had a wonderful afternoon at anchor (I worked some more on my Betsy Ross project). My eye was attracted to this dock ramp, which the years have given organic curves.

The evening cooled off rapidly, so we made a roast porkchop dish with cabbage in the oven, and got free cabin heat besides. It all went very well with the wine and guitar later.

When we woke up in the morning, the gift from the oven was still giving. All the moisture from the propane burned in the oven raises the relative humidity inside as well as giving heat. Over night the heat dissipates, but the moisture remains. It was 56 degrees inside, so I fired up the trusty Dickenson diesel heater, and we had it up to 70 in a jiffy. Bonus: the combustion air needs of the Dickenson inhale the moisture and expel it out the stack, so aside from the heating, there is also a net drying due to the air exchange. The windows cleared right up.

Slack water at the marina was to be at 14:15, so we needed to leave at about 12:45 to arrive at the slack (avoiding difficult currents at the dock). However, there was a competing need - the wind was forecast to rise to 20 kt in the afternoon, and we wanted to avoid docking with that much of a headwind if possible. So we decided to leave early, and hoisted anchor at 10:00.

It turned out to be a wonderful sail back across the Sound - we had wind off the beam at 12-18 kt, and Eolian scooted along at 6+ kt under just the yankee. It was great that what could be the last sail of the year was so wonderful (yes, I was feeling maudlin again...)

Due to our excellent speed, we arrived earlier than planned (but had the high wind anyway), and so had to manage the docking maneuver with both a 20 kt headwind and with significant current pushing us off the dock. In some ways it was easier, since I had to use the motor a lot just to counter the push of the North wind, and this meant that I had the use of the directed thrust from the prop and rudder available a lot more than usual. Curtis and Cynthia from Wind Dancer next door caught our lines, which was a big help.

I guess I am ready for the season to be closing, tho we may yet steal a day or two if moderate weather hits on weekends.

I guess I am ready.

I guess.

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